The banged-up Los Angeles Clippers are doing their best to stay afloat in the unforgiving Western Conference, as they’ve now won three-straight games following a 110-105 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night.
Blake Griffin has been out the last three weeks after undergoing surgery to remove a staph infection from his right elbow, but the Clippers have gone 7-3 during the absence of their All-Star power forward. During this stretch, they’re averaging 106.9 points per contest, and there have been quality wins over the Mavericks, Spurs, Rockets, Grizzlies and Bulls.
The main reasons this team has played exceptionally well without Griffin is outstanding play from their starting point guard and center. In the last 10 games, Chris Paul has averaged 21.2 points, 12.6 assists and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 52 percent from the floor. Among point guards, Paul ranks seventh in scoring, second in assists and third in PER on the year.
DeAndre Jordan, who many believe was snubbed as an All-Star, has averaged 15.8 points and 19.2 rebounds over the last 10 while shooting 66.3 percent from the field. Jordan is also posting 1.8 blocks and 1.5 steals per contest during this time, and he’s vying for his first Defensive Player of the Year award.
The impact Jordan has had on this Clippers team is an underrated one, and Paul recently said that at times he takes the big man for granted, according to Mark Strotman of CSN Chicago:
“There’s times I’ve had to sit back and realize — I don’t think I’ve ever played a game as a Clipper without him. Sometimes I’m on him and stuff like that it’s because I trust him and believe in him and stuff like that. I know I take him for granted because I couldn’t imagine playing without him.”
Jordan leads the league in rebounding and field goal percentage this season, and if that stands the rest of the way, he’ll be the first player to have done this in consecutive seasons since Wilt Chamberlain did so in 1971-72 and 1972-73. Shooting 71.7 percent from the field this season, Jordan can become only the second player in league history to shoot above 70 percent in a season on more than 153 attempts, per Basketball-Reference.com. Chamberlain is the only other player to do that.
With Griffin set to return back soon, the Clippers have to be more than happy with their ability to remain in contention during his absence. They currently are the fifth seed, three games behind Memphis for the second seed in the Western Conference.
Los Angeles is first in offensive efficiency and second in both points per game and field goal percentage on the season. They’re also fourth in three-point percentage and assists. The question surrounding this team is defense, just like it was last season, and we’ll see if Jordan and Paul can anchor the Clippers in that regard.
With Paul dishing out 41 percent of the Clippers’ assists per game and Jordan grabbing 34 percent of the teams rebounds per contest among all the other things they do, they’re trying their best to bring the franchise their first ever championship banner. But although they have a .700 winning percentage since Griffin went down, no one is going to egregiously state that they can do much of anything without him.
The next six-game stretch will be crucial for the Clippers, as five will be against playoff teams from a season ago. Griffin is expected to be back at some point during this stretch, and with the West being as wide open as one could remember, Paul is hoping this is the year he makes his first ever conference finals appearance.
There’s plenty of time from now until then, but as Erik Spoelstra would say, “It’s go time.”